The guillotine has finally fallen. After years of uncertainty, the Supreme Court has invalidated fair share fee arrangements in thousands of public sector collective bargaining agreements across the country through its 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31. The result is clear: public-sector workers can choose not to share in the costs of their unions’ collective bargaining. Janus thus jeopardizes the financial vitality of public sector unions. And it does so just as a wave of teacher walkouts in right-to-work states reveals the political risks of policies that give public sector workers little voice in their wages and conditions of employment.
What’s next? It is time for lawmakers in progressive, pro-labor states to get to work. (Note that these are essentially the only states affected by Janus, since red states have already overwhelmingly forbidden fair share fees as a matter of legislative policy.) As I explain in “How To Undo Janus: A User-Friendly Guide“, lawmakers have the power to reduce Janus to a mere footnote in the long arc of history for organized labor. To see how, consider the following thought exercise.
Imagine you are a state legislator in a progressive state in the 1950s, before public sector unions are even recognized. You believe that public workers will be more satisfied and productive, and that the quality of public services will improve, if workers have a meaningful voice in their wages and terms and conditions of employment. You believe that the best way to empower this voice is to require public employers to bargain on a range of issues with unions that are accountable to their members and that fairly represent all workers. And you recognize that unions must have adequate financial resources in order to advocate effectively.
So here is the million-dollar question: How should the government ensure the unions’ financial security?